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Should a Chemo Patient Shave the Hair Off and If So, When?

I hope the photo below doesn’t scare anyone away! It was actually taken a few weeks ago when I had MORE hair.

This past Tuesday I completed round 7 of chemo. It’s hard to believe I have made it this far. When I started chemo back in July, October seemed sooo far away and now here it is. Fall has always been my favorite season and this year I am loving it even more because it’s when chemo ends!

Before beginning chemo, my husband and I signed up for a chemo class at the hospital where I would be receiving it. We already knew quite a bit about chemo since my mother had it a couple of years ago, but when you are going to be having it yourself, suddenly you can never know too much about it.

At the class we received a packet full of information, watched a video and listened to a chemo nurse talk a bit about what to expect. Surprisingly, to me at least, somewhere in there she looked at me and said, “Nancy with the drugs you will be receiving you will definitely be losing your hair.”

I know she meant well and was only trying to prepare me, but the comment was unexpected and I felt unnecessary. I mean is there really anyone on the planet who doesn’t understand that chemo usually equals hair loss? “Yes, I am totally aware of that,” I managed to answer as if it would be no big deal to lose my hair.

Anyway, here I am post chemo session 7 and I still have some hair on my head! Granted, it’s not much, but there’s still some there. If  you saw the fairly recent Leonardo D’Caprio movie Shutter Island, I look like the creepy crazy woman with thin hair standing in the flower garden at the beginning of the movie when he arrives on the island. If you saw the movie and have had chemo, you know exactly who I’m talking about. I think there’s a message in there somewhere that if you have thin hair you are scary looking and I don’t think I like that message very much, but that’s a topic for another time.

Most chemo patients shave their heads as soon as hair loss begins or even before. It makes them feel more in control they say. Not me. I’ve hung onto my hair as long as possible. I lamented when it began to fall out in clumps and I still carefully pluck off strands from the back of my clothes as if saying goodbye to old friends. Don’t get me wrong, I have adjusted to having almost no hair amazingly well. I even walk around the house now without wearing anything on my head. My husband just laughs and says, “Oh, I got used to that a long time ago.” And my kids don’t care. Neither do the dogs. In fact, the dogs get more nervous, eying me suspiciously for a few moments, whenever I put a wig on. They truly don’t miss a thing; they totally know it’s fake hair and that I look slightly different. They prefer my “natural” look.

Does not shaving my hair off like most chemo patients make me weak, vain or just plain weird? Am I unable to face reality? Or did my defiant rebellious side kick in that day at chemo class? I don’t know or care.

I do know that when I am totally finished with chemo, I will shave off any remaining hair on my head so I can start over from scratch. Otherwise I’ll end up with some freakish mish-mash of length, color and texture that even I am not willing to deal with.

I guess the point of all this rambling is that you can and should do what you want about shaving your head. Shave it all off early or let it fall out slowly. You decide. It’s your hair, it’s your cancer and it’s your decision.

If you have had chemo, did you shave your head as soon as hair loss began? (or if you know someone who has had chemo, what did they do?)

Note: More information about chemotherapy is available in my book, Getting past the fear: A guide to help you mentally prepare for chemotherapy. For all your purchasing options, click on the book image below.

 Getting_Past_the_Fea_Cover_for_Kindle

117 thoughts on “Should a Chemo Patient Shave the Hair Off and If So, When?

  1. Hello Nancy, I have lymphoma and started losing my hair drastically after starting chemo. I found your blog looking for answers for “should I shave my head”. After reading I realised that it’s OUR cancer and OUR hair… Shave it if you want or leave it as is. I feel like I’m doing more to make people comfortable around me then for myself. Please do what you prefer

    1. Danny, You should absolutely do what you prefer! We all should. Sometimes I think there is pressure put on women to shave their hair off early on. If that’s what you want to do, fine. But like you said, it’s our cancer and our hair. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

    2. You said that you feel like you’re doing more to make people comfortable than you’re doing for yourself. Living with cancer can be a balancing act. You really want to put yourself first, completely and totally. I sure did. But that makes it easy to push others away when you need them most. For that reason I went through my cancer experience alone. So I think it’s worth keeping in mind how much to put yourself first and how much to consider others.

      1. Andulamb, You are so right about putting yourself first. But still, we can’t completely push away (or annoy) our loved ones either, so each person must figure out that balance. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I had cancer in 1988 when I was in college. I distanced myself from my treatment as much as possible, had no connections with the cancer community, and therefore had no idea what was typical. So it never even occurred to me to shave my head. My hair started falling out and I just let the chemo take its course. My mom asked me if I wanted a hat, which for some reason irritated and offended me. But then she bought me one anyway and by that time I was happy to have it. Moms know best.

    I just looked at another web site that recommends that one should “take charge” and shave your head immediately. I say to do whatever you want to do. Shave or don’t shave. Wear a hat, a wig, or a scarf, or draw pictures on your bald head with a Magic Marker, or tie a pretty bow around your last few sad strands of hair, or just be proud of your scalp. This more than any other is your time, so do what you want.

    I don’t think shaving your head or not shaving your head says anything about you. I would hope those with cancer aren’t judging each other over such superficial things.

    1. Andulamb, I completely agree. I still get annoyed whenever I read that shaving one’s hair off early on is the best way to go. No, the best way to deal with chemo-induced hair loss, is to do whatever you darn please. Thank you for chiming in on this.

  3. Thank you for your blog and all the helpful comments. Getting my first chemo treatment in three days. Haven been contemplating/stressing over the hairloss/shave-your-head/wig conundrums. The clearest advice I got was from a friend who said “You get to do whatever the @#$%^T you want.” (Actual adult language omitted out of respect for readers–but I’m sure you can figure it out.) Still working to balance the grief and denial and hopefulness. And still trying to sort out what I think I want. Glad to have some additional perspective; I’m sure it will help guide me as I’m forced to finally face each decision. Thank you, again.

    1. Julie, You are dealing with a lot right now. I like your friend’s advice very much. You might wish to read my book as you begin chemo. It might help. I wish you all the best as your move forward with your treatment. There is a lot of processing and balancing to do. Luckily there is a lot of support from others who’ve been there. Thank you for reading and sharing. Good luck with chemo and everything else too.

      1. The same friend advised me after surgery to be sure not to do any vacuuming for at least five years. ;-) I’ll look into your book. Thanks again.

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